Debating India

BJP

Setback to a strategy

Saturday 18 June 2005, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

L’affaire Advani proves that the strategy of the Sangh Parivar constituents to speak in different voices in order to gain political mileage is no longer yielding the expected results.

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Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh chief Dattopant Thengdi addresses a rally against the NDA government’s economic policies in New Delhi in April 2001.

HAS the Sangh Parivar finally lost its ability to adopt doublespeak - or, to be more precise, "multispeak" - to achieve its short-, medium- and long-term political and organisational goals? This is one of the key questions that have come to the fore in the wake of the acrimonious debate among the various outfits of the Hindutva combine about the pros and cons of L.K. Advani’s Pakistan visit and the pronouncements he made in that country. On the face of it, some of the major outfits of the Sangh Parivar - including sections of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - are seemingly up in arms over the issues raised by Advani’s visit, including the BJP president’s praise of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his acknowledgement of the formation of India and Pakistan as an "unalterable reality of history".

The intensity of the confrontation, as manifested in the media and other public forums, is such that there are predictions about even a collapse of the redoubtable Hindutva combine, which has significantly influenced the politics of the country in the past one and a half decades. Another opinion, prevalent among several political observers, is that the present "intense war" among the Sangh Parivar outfits is yet another classical case of "multispeak".

Whatever the truth, one thing is certain - the "multispeak" stratagem is no longer as effective or as immediately rewarding as it used to be. Even a cursory comparison of the Sangh Parivar’s record of 15 years with its present experience would highlight the contemporary inefficacy of the device. A normal "multispeak" routine involves a clutch of outfits of the Hindutva combine, and sometimes different segments of the BJP itself, speaking in diverse voices on the same issue and finally advancing a view that is politically or organisationally expedient at a given point of time.

The comparison of the efficacy of the device would, obviously, have to start with its most outrageous exposition by the Sangh Parivar during the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, particularly just before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. At that time, sections of the party and the Sangh Parivar spoke in different voices, alternating between moderation and extremism. Leaders such as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh and Member of Parliament Swami Chinmayanand gave solemn assurances and commitments to obey the rule of law - even before the Supreme Court and the National Integration Council - and asserted that no harm would be done to the "disputed structure". At the same time, others like Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar and VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore exhorted kar sevaks to demolish the Babri Masjid, in open defiance of the law. National leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani travelled across North India and gave speeches that sounded seemingly moderate but had inbuilt extremist messages for the rank and file. And finally, when the Babri Masjid was demolished by rampaging kar sevaks, the Sangh Parivar as a whole hailed it as a historically correct action.

The Ayodhya subterfuge was essentially worked out between the moderate BJP and extremist VHP leaderships. The latter was helped in its operations by the militant Bajrang Dal, which, like several other Sangh Parivar outfits, was raised to carry out a special social, political and organisational task. The Bajrang Dal’s calling was to build up a cadre of militant young people trained to carry out the rough and tough manoeuvres in the Ayodhya campaign. When the BJP came to power at the Centre leading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), these manoeuvres acquired unique qualitative dimensions. Throughout the six years that the party was in power, the Sangh Parivar raised "multispeak" to the level of strategy and sought to occupy the spaces of both the ruling power and the Opposition.

The strategy for this was concretised under the leadership of the present top leader (sarsanghchalak) of the RSS, K.S. Sudarshan, during a chinthan baithak (introspection meet) held at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur in December 1998. The baithak became the first in a series of Sangh Parivar meetings that criticised the functioning of the BJP-led Union government.

These meetings listed out specific complaints in many areas against the Vajpayee government and alleged that the government was giving in to pressures, including pressures from international agencies, without considering their long-term implications. The resolutions passed at the 1998 chinthan baithak termed "anti-national" the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) Bill, the ban on the sale of (non-iodised) common salt and the decision to allow 100 per cent foreign investment in the cigarette-manufacturing industry. All the measures, the baithak pointed out, went against the swadeshi economic perspective of the Sangh Parivar.

The resolutions passed and the statements made at the "critical" meetings were normally followed up by announcements of agitation plans, and sometimes actual agitations, by various Sangh Parivar outfits such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Sanskar Bharati, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and the Bajrang Dal. After the 1998 baithak, the BMS launched an agitation against the IRA Bill and its leader Dattopant Thengdi resigned from the task force on employment generation set up by Prime Minister Vajpayee calling for a "total withdrawal" of the policy of liberalisation.

All this basically served the Sangh Parivar’s purpose of occupying the Opposition’s space and offering a controlled and muted criticism of the policies of the NDA government. What happened after Thengdi’s resignation from the task force illustrates this point. Thengdi’s vacancy was filled by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the current Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and at that time one of its members and an undisputed votary of economic liberalisation. Ahluwalia was later appointed Chairman of the task force.

The Sangh Parivar met two years later at Agra for a "summit meet" (shivir) and again made the almost rehearsed critical comments against the Vajpayee government. But by that time the government had not only introduced the IRA Bill and got it passed in Parliament with the support of the Congress, but openly embarked on what Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha termed second- generation economic reforms.

The Agra shivir stated that the Sangh Parivar would come up with an alternative model of economic development by 2002 and that until it was developed, organisations such as the SJM would guide the NDA government wherever it went wrong, on a case-to-case basis. Clearly, the BMS’ war cry of 1998 and 1999, calling for an immediate withdrawal of the policy of liberalisation, was no longer part of the Sangh Parivar programme by 2000. By then it was becoming increasingly clear that the quarrels between the various outfits and the government had come close to shadow boxing. On several other issues, too, such as the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Sangh Parivar utilised this blow hot, blow cold strategy during the BJP’s six years in power to make maximum political and organisational gains.

HOWEVER, the shock defeat of the NDA in the last Lok Sabha elections seemed to have changed all this. The Sangh Parivar’s political campaigns did not yield many positive results after the Lok Sabha defeat. This has been the case right from the first agitation the BJP led sitting in the Opposition, against "tainted Ministers" in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, to the campaign to save the "honour" of Jayendra Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi who is charge-sheeted in a murder case. The outcome of election-related work in various States, too, was no different.

In this context, the "multispeak" stratagem of Sangh Parivar outfits suddenly seemed to go beyond a mere contrarian role-playing and started becoming more trenchant than ever before. In fact, almost all efforts to employ the stratagem in the past one year have only generated confusion and intensified acrimony in the Sangh Parivar. Such was the public display of bitterness that even hardcore Sangh Parivar followers started admitting privately that "multispeak" had gone too far.

Central to this situation, informed sources told Frontline, was the perception in the major Sangh Parivar outfits and sections of the RSS that the six-year stint in power had corrupted a large majority of BJP leaders and converted them into power-mongers, with no commitment to the core ideology of Hindutva. The VHP leadership was in the forefront of making this accusation, partly, as BJP insiders say, because it was kept out of important positions of power during the NDA’s tenure in government.

In the wake of such charges, these sections of the Sangh Parivar wanted the BJP to give up all adherences to the "adjustment coalition politics" and return to Hindutva. A series of brainstorming exercises held by the Sangh Parivar leadership in the past one year conveyed a similar message.

On the other hand, the BJP leadership, including Advani, has periodically paid lip-service to the "return-to-the-core-ideology" idea during the past one year. But the overall perception is that the party is not taking any concrete measures to make the intention a reality. Advani’s pronouncements in Pakisan came in such a context, providing a handy tool for the Sangh Parivar outfits to provoke the most vituperative confrontation ever within the combine.

The overwhelming view among several observers is that after the confrontation the outfits would find it difficult to gloss over their differences and return to adversarial role-playing in the interests of common political and organisational goals. This is especially so because most of the scathing verbal duels among the leaders is being carried out in front of television cameras.

However, there is a stream of opinion which believes that the diatribes are a classic example of shadow boxing, aimed at creating a secular, moderate image, a la Vajpayee, for Advani. Observers point out that there has been an immediate impact to this, in the form of greater acceptance to Advani within the NDA. Notwithstanding the merits of the argument, the fact remains that the acrimony and rancour within the Sangh Parivar has spread so deep and wide that it has started reflecting in the rank and file as unprecedented confusion and concern.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 22 - Issue 13, Jun 18 - Jul 01, 2005

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